Upfronts: In search of hits, CBS makes sweeping schedule changes
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Big surprise out of New York: CBS, a network that typically changes at a glacial pace, will dramatically shake up its fall schedule as it hunts for the next generation of hits.
For the first time in more than 40 years, the network will run back-to-back comedies in the 8 p.m. hour on Thursdays, with “The Big Bang Theory” and the new “$#*! My Dad Says” with William Shatner. The last time CBS ran comedies in that Thursday slot was during the 1965-66 season, with “Gilligan’s Island” and “My Three Sons.”
That means the “Survivor” franchise will be sent packing to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, the time slot where a comedy block failed this season. That in itself marks the end of an era; “Survivor” has been a Thursday mainstay since fall 2001, when CBS threw it against NBC’s smash sitcom “Friends” in a much-discussed showdown.
And that’s not all. The network has also downgraded both of its “CSI” spinoffs -- which have been 10 p.m. weeknight anchors since 2004 -- to the weekends. “CSI: Miami” is moving to Sundays, and its old Monday slot going to a new remake of “Hawaii Five-O.” And “CSI: NY” will land in the suddenly competitive zone of 9 p.m. Fridays, its Wednesday slot cleared for a new legal drama, “The Defenders.” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” will remain in its 9 p.m. Thursday berth -- for now. Another new cop drama, “Blue Bloods” with Tom Selleck, is slotted for 10 p.m. Fridays.
CBS executives tried to put the best face on the wave of cancellations that preceded the schedule shifts, including the Friday dramas “The Ghost Whisperer” and “Numb3rs” and the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
“We love ‘Old Christine,’” CBS chief Leslie Moonves told reporters at a media breakfast Wednesday morning. “But that hour, the numbers were a 1.7 and a 1.8 (rating) and not heading in the right direction. That was not a good place for the No. 1 network in television to be at. ... This is about improving time periods.” “Nothing is setting the world on fire Thursdays at 8,” added Kelly Kahl, CBS’ scheduling chief. “The best time to change gears is when you already have the strongest hand.”
In fact, although CBS is indeed the most-watched network again this season, it will lose out to Fox once more among young adults, the category deemed most important by advertisers. More important, its signature franchises, “Survivor” and “CSI,” have continued to erode this season, and the heat is on the programming team to find new hits before the ebbing numbers start knocking CBS’ market share and the network loses more of its older-skewing audience to cable outlets such as TNT.
Having ripened as it heads into its fourth season, “Big Bang Theory” will likely make big trouble for NBC’s “Community,” which was looking fragile as it was.”$#*! My Dad Says” (with CBS insisting that its expletive be written in unpronounceable characters but uttered as “bleep”; it’s the fall show most in need of a name change) could be a broader alternative to the critical darling “30 Rock.” But it’s probably not the best lead-in for “CSI,” which has stumbled anyway from age and the departure of William Petersen. CBS’ other new comedy, “Mike & Molly,” has been given the plum 9:30 Monday spot after “Two and a Half Men,” which is returning after an eleventh-hour negotiation with star Charlie Sheen.
“Hawaii Five-O,” meanwhile, will steer right into a pile-up of crime shows at 10 p.m. Mondays, opposite NBC’s “Chase” and ABC’s “Castle.” It’s a similar tale on Wednesdays, when viewers can overdose on courtroom theatrics with CBS’ “The Defenders” squaring off against two other new entries, ABC’s “The Whole Truth” and NBC’s “Law & Order: Los Angeles.”
-- Scott Collins
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